In the blue corner: a view from the Tory conference fringe

As the political party conference bandwagon rolled to a halt for another year, the big finale for CAF’s battle-hardened team was the last of our fringe events, held on the last evening of the Conservative party conference. This saw yet another good turnout and panel discussion on the topic of people power and charities.

Our panel comprised Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, Pete Moorey, Head of Campaigns at the consumer rights organisation Which?, and CAF’s own CEO, John Low. The event was again chaired by Toby Helm, the political editor of The Observer.

John Low kicked off proceedings, as he has at the other party conference fringe events, with an introduction to the findings of our recent research on the “civic core” and what they mean for charities trying to mobilise the public to give time or money.

Penny Mordaunt then spoke about the importance for charities of engaging with local businesses, as she feels that this is one of the great untapped resources. She also wondered whether local government (or indeed central government) could link more effectively with the voluntary sector so that when funding for State provided services diminishes, there is a greater possibility of finding an alternative charity solution. As she pointed out, the challenge is to get a much better understanding of the voluntary sector amongst those working in government and suggested that there could be some centralised coordination to match up current charity provision with gaps that appear in public sector provision.

Ms Mordaunt also argued that it was important to make the most of existing instances of community action as a starting point for engaging people with charities and campaigns. She gave the example in her constituency of the community buyout of Portsmouth Football Club to demonstrate an instance here where an amazing outcome had been achieved against great odds because the local community had been successfully mobilised around a common cause.

Pete Moorey then spoke about Which?’s experience of organising the “U Switch” campaign, which encouraged consumers to switch their energy provider if they were dissatisfied with excessive bills. He pointed out that this was an example in which it was not government, but businesses that was the target of campaigning, and described how the U Switch campaign had led some energy companies to offer lower tariffs for customers, which many participants took up.

Nick Hurd put forward the Government’s two key aims in this area, which he explained as making it easier to give to charity and making it more compelling to do so. He detailed a number of government initiatives that focus on using technology to enable and encourage giving in new ways and from new groups of people. He also spoke passionately about his belief in the National Citizen Service scheme, and that he saw the crucial feature of this scheme as being that it was “owned” by the participants.

Mr Hurd also picked up on Ms Mordaunt’s points about harnessing existing community action. He gave the example of a new initiative in King’s Hospital, South London, aimed at making better use of the large number of volunteers the hospital received. In this initiative, medical staff had been asked to help identify the areas of greatest (non-medical) need within the hospital, and volunteers were then deployed and managed to help to address these needs. Mr Hurd argued that this was a model that could be employed by many more hospitals.

When the debate was opened up to the floor, the panelists received some interesting questions from audience members. These covered issues ranging from whether recent stories over excessive executive pay had damaged public trust in charities to whether silos between government departments prevented an effective overall Government engagement with the voluntary sector. We even heard from a lady who ran a small charity helping cats about her experience of using the internet for fundraising and finding that within hours of putting an appeal online for £1000 to help a rescued cat, she had raised all the money in donations from the US!

As with the fringe events at the Lib Dem and Labour conferences, there were some great ideas and food for thought at this event. We will certainly be giving some thought to how we at CAF could move things forward in some of these areas over the coming months.

Rhodri Davies

One response to “In the blue corner: a view from the Tory conference fringe

  1. Pingback: Reporting Back from Conservative Party Conference! | Back Britain's Charities·

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